Sunday, April 21, 2013

Getting Students to Believe in Themselves

I sense there is an ever-growing segment of young people, mostly male, who are unable to compile a written response to the simplest of essay questions. After growing tired and confused as to why they would choose to not answer a test question, I decided it was time to inquire as to why "John" was finding it hard to pen a few lines. In a polite manner I asked what he knew about the subject in general. His mind was in lock-down mode and he was having difficulty laying it before I supplied him with a 2-3 clue words to cue his thoughts. John proceeded to rattle off everything he knew about the subject, nailing the original essay question in a way which surprised both me and himself.

"Why did you find this specific question so difficult to answer on today's test?" John told me he knew all the information, but didn't know that this is what I was looking for, nor did he know how to get it out of his brain. While there are some educators who would simply accept an unanswered essay question, I am becoming rather insistent in finding out what my students know and why they are willing to bail ship by accepting their lackluster performance. In the real world, employers won't consider any job application that contains blank space in an area which is designated for thoughtful response. Are schools so forgiving to accept this behavior?

I am exploring new ways in my classroom to change this behavior while still retaining their trust and buy-in to my teaching style. There is a segment of students who dislike writing assignments and often ignore them altogether in hopes that they'll simply go away. They accept failure as routine and normal. My grandmother had a saying that the hardest nut to crack often had the tastiest meat to enjoy. The same holds true to a small segment of students who are often considered hopeless- the knowledge is there, you just have to crack through the barrier. There's a wonderful world of intelligent thought waiting to be revealed!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Regarding the Quiet-Learners

As a first-year teacher I often take notice of those students who lag behind mainstream learners. After all, they are the ones who need the most immediate attention as they impact WKCE scores the greatest as well as the general classroom climate. Over the past several weeks there are others flying beneath the radar screen and they deserve as much, if not more, of our notice. I refer to these students as the quiet-learners, those who ALWAYS complete their assignments on time in a thorough manner with very few errors and distinct writing styles. Some might reference them as 'gifted and talented.' They challenge us not with mischievous actions or poor attitudes, but with anticipation for more rigorous learning activities. They have my attention and I am attempting new ways to keep them engaged in my classroom. Each one is different, yet uniquely similar.

At any point in the school day, regardless of my class size, I still need to manage a wide variety of attitudes and personality styles in addition to addressing the needs of lower-level learners. It's here where the quiet-learners become lost in the shuffle, and in many ways they could very well be the reason as to why higher academic standards via the Common Core are being designed for tomorrow's classrooms. These individuals do not need our ongoing attention, but they do require both acknowledgement and optional assignments which elevate their thought process. With test grades at the 97-percent-plus level, they are already exceeding our expectations and sometimes they will not accept more work for fear of falling backwards. They're already riding a well-greased slide, but whether they realize it or not, they also need to learn something new every day to satisfy that inner thirst for knowledge. It is here that I assure them that their "safe-grade" will not be jeopardized, only weighted with greater regard and higher prominence. I am doing nothing more than coaxing them into deeper waters of higher learning. I want to stay at least one step ahead of them, ready to offer challenging lessons at a moments notice.

This is just another reason as to why I enjoy teaching at this point in my life, seeing the potential in students on both ends of the spectrum...and everything in between.